Topics in Reasoning - PL623

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 2)
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6 30 (15) PROF J Williamson


Indicative reading:

Donald Gillies 2000: Philosophical theories of probability. Routledge.





The module will cover some of the major topics of the theory of reasoning, with a focus on presenting students with new and exciting research. The syllabus will vary from year to year. The approach will be philosophical and critical, and may involve the close reading of texts. Students will be expected to engage critically with the works being studied and to formulate and argue for their own views on the issues covered.
As an indication of the kind of topics covered, the following are three potential syllabi, one of which might operate in any particular year:
1. Probability and probabilistic reasoning. This syllabus will present the major interpretations of probability and their connection with the various kinds of probabilistic reasoning. Topics covered might include: the classical interpretation; the logical interpretation; the subjective interpretation; the frequency interpretation; the propensity interpretation; the objective Bayesian interpretation. The key text will be D.A.Gillies (2000): Philosophical theories of probability, Routledge.
2. Causality and causal reasoning. This syllabus will present the major theories of causality, including difference-making theories (probabilistic theories, counterfactual theories, agency theories), mechanistic theories (process theories, complex systems theories) and pluralist theories. It will go on to consider methods of causal reasoning in the sciences and the implications of such methods for the metaphysics of causality. In the absence of a comprehensive text, this syllabus will appeal to papers, especially those in the Oxford Handbook of Causation (OUP 2009), and Causality in the Sciences (OUP 2011).
3. Invalid arguments. This syllabus will look in detail at methods of assessing the cogency of deductively invalid arguments. In particular it will present the methods of inductive logic for assessing the plausibility of arguments. It will provide an introduction to probabilistic logics and their semantics, as well as to methods of inference in probabilistic logics, with a focus on elementary methods that can be readily acquired by students with little prior training in logic and no prior knowledge of probability theory. In the absence of a text at a suitable level, this syllabus will be accompanied by a set of detailed lecture notes.

Convenor: Jon Williamson
Jon Williamson works on various topics connected with reasoning, inference and scientific method, including causal reasoning in the sciences, inductive reasoning, and the nature of probability. The aim of this module is to introduce students to cutting-edge research on topics such as these. Jon is editor of the gazette The Reasoner, co-director of the Centre for Reasoning, and author of books on reasoning such as Bayesian nets and causality (OUP 2005), In defence of objective Bayesianism (OUP 2010) and Probabilistic logics and probabilistic networks (Springer 2011).


This module appears in:

Contact hours

2 hours lectures + 1 hour of seminar per week for 10 teaching weeks


Also available to Level 5 students under code PL622

Method of assessment

100% Coursework

Preliminary reading

None, however some familiarity with basic propositional logic (e.g., via the stage 1 module Philosophical Thinking) would be helpful.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete the module will have:
• Gained an understanding of some of the major controversies surrounding reasoning. (c.f. Philosophy Programme Specification 11.iii, 12.A.ii)
• Through their study of these arguments, students will have engaged critically with some of the central philosophical issues in this area concerning reasoning. (PPS 12.A.ii, 12.A.iv)
• Through their study of these arguments, students will enhance their understanding of various theories of such philosophical topics as probabilistic reasoning, causal reasoning and logical reasoning. (PPS 12.A.iv)
• Acquired the ability to engage in a close critical reading of some of major texts in the theory of reasoning (PPS 11.ii, 12.A.i)
The module will thus contribute to the aims and objectives of the Philosophy programme by enabling students to acquire familiarity with themes in a major area of philosophy, to gain knowledge of some of major works in the history of philosophy and to engage critically with them.

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